By the time you’ve negotiated the winding road up to MARVÃO you’re ready for sensational panoramas, and the remote border outpost doesn’t disappoint. From the dramatically sited rocky outcrop high above the undulating serra the views are unrivalled, while within a complete circuit of seventeenth-century walls lies a higgledy-piggledy town of fewer than a thousand, inhabiting scrupulously whitewashed houses with granite windows and pitched red roofs. It’s a fixture on the tourist trail of course, though as many do no more than drive up for the view and have a quick look around, spending the night here is an attractive proposition.
The Moors built the first fortifications – and named the stronghold after Marvan, the Moorish Lord of Coimbra. Marvão fell to the Christians in 1166, and the castle was rebuilt by Dom Dinis around 1229 as another important link in the chain of fortresses along the Spanish border. The castle stands at the far end of the village, its walls blending into the slopes of the serra. It’s dauntingly impenetrable, and was provided with a huge cisterna, just inside the main entrance, still full of water, designed to supply the entire village. Indeed, the castle was captured only once, in 1833, when the attackers entered through a secret gate. A couple of village museums fill in the historical background, and there are more displays, exhibitions and local handicrafts in the Casa da Cultura housed in the old town hall. But in the end, it’s just as rewarding to climb up and down the switchback cobbled streets and sit awhile in the impeccably kept terrace gardens.
It is worth taking the time, however, to visit the Cidade Romana de Ammaia, 7km south of the village on the Portalegre road; follow the signs for São Salvador de Aramenha from the Portagem junction. It’s a beautiful site in a wooded hollow, Marvão high on its bluff in the distance. Sheep graze across the Roman remains, which include parts of the south gate, a bath complex, forum and temple, while a small museum occupies the kitchen and basement of an old Roman house.Read More